The First Black Woman in Vanderbilt University’s Neurosurgery Residency Program

Tamia Potter is the first Black woman to earn a place in Vanderbilt University’s neurosurgery residency program in its 91-year history. Dr. Potter starts her residency on July 1, as part of a group of 21 physicians in the 7-year residency program.

Only 5.7 percent of U.S. physicians generally identify as Black or African American. According to the American Society of Black Neurosurgeons, there are currently only 33 Black women who are in the field of neurosurgery in the United States.

A native of Florida, Dr. Potter became a certified nursing assistant at the age of 17. Both her mother and grandmother were nurses. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Florida A&M University and her medical degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

“There are a lot of stereotypes about Black people in medicine and affirmative action,” Dr. Potter said. “People believe they’re sacrificing quality for quantity of diversity. That’s not the case. You can be a very well-qualified person and be a person of color at the same time. The problem is, because that stereotype exists, when you’re a Black person in spaces like these, you feel the pressure and need to be the best because you want to prove to people that it is not an affirmative action job. I am qualified to be here, and you’re not sacrificing anything by me being here.

“You don’t know what someone is capable of until you give them the right resources,” Potter added. “You can’t just say because this person came from this school and because they don’t have these scores that they’re not going to be an amazing doctor and surgeon.”

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